by Randy Coleman
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
CHARLESTON -- After Bob Wise took the ceremonial oath of office Monday to become West Virginia's 33rd governor, he used his inaugural address to put his role as the state's chief executive into perspective.
Wise pointed to the biblical book of Nehemiah and its story of the 5th Century B.C. Judean governor.
Jerusalem, Nehemiah's one-time home, had fallen and its residents were scattered. Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the city.
"Against all odds, they raised the walls of Jerusalem in 52 days," Wise said.
Wise is Nehemiah. West Virginia is the fallen city of Jerusalem.
Wise took the oath of office Monday under cloudy skies, with a chilly western wind invading the proceedings. With his wife, Sandy, holding a Bible, and a crowd of about 4,000 people watching, Wise promised to use his skill and best judgment to lead West Virginia.
And he asked the state for help.
"Just as the residents of Jerusalem committed themselves, so must we," Wise said. "It will take us much more than 52 days. And, like Nehemiah, it will take the strong hand of our leaders, our people and our faith. But we can raise West Virginia to the heights it must attain."
Wise succeeds Republican Gov. Cecil Underwood, whom he defeated in the Nov. 7 election.
Wise said West Virginia faces clear challenges. His inaugural address came less than two months after he, Senate President Earl Ray Tomblin and House Speaker Bob Kiss discussed the state's slower-than-expected collection of tax revenue and whether Wise should implement a statewide spending freeze in February if collections don't pick up.
Just as he did throughout his campaign, Wise on Monday emphasized the importance of education, economic development and affordable health care coverage for all West Virginians.
"For West Virginia, education is the passport to prosperity. Today we commit ourselves to one simple goal crucial for public education and preparing our children for high paying jobs -- we will become the Education State," Wise said.
Wise promoted the PROMISE Scholarship program, which would pay tuition for high-achieving students regardless of financial need. During his campaign, Wise tirelessly stressed his support for the program.
Wise also said he intends to fight for traditional and new industries.
"A strong home requires a good job. There is much we commit to today. To fighting to keep and expand the high paying jobs. To preserving our traditional base -- our coal, steel, chemicals, and hardwoods -- at the same time we constantly seek to bring the new economy's jobs," Wise said.
"To ending the divisive battles. I am absolutely committed to the proposition that good jobs and a good environment can exist in harmony. And the new jobs we seek to create will require a good environment."
Other statewide elected officials who were elected Nov. 7 also were sworn in during the inaugural ceremony. They were: Secretary of State Joe Manchin, Treasurer John Perdue, Auditor Glen Gainer III, Agriculture Commissioner Gus Douglas, Attorney General Darrell V. McGraw Jr., and Supreme Court Justices Robin Davis and Joseph Albright.
All are Democrats.
Manchin was sworn in by his uncle, Delegate A. James Manchin, D-Marion. The elder Manchin is a former secretary of state and former state treasurer. The others, including Wise, were sworn in by Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren McGraw, the attorney general's brother.
U.S. Sens. Robert C. Byrd and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., and U.S. Reps. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., attended the inaugural. Former governors Gaston Caperton and Hulett C. Smitt attended, as did U.S. Reps. Ted Strickland, D-Ohio, and Frank Mascara, D-Pa.
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., could not attend because his plane in Washington was fogged in, Wise said.
Although his public swearing-in ceremony began at noon on the steps of the Capitol, Wise officially took the oath of office at 12:01 a.m. -- not p.m. -- in the foyer of the Governor's Mansion, Wise spokeswoman Amy Shuler Goodwin said.
Incoming governors often take the oath of office shortly after midnight on the day of their inaugural.
Cabell County Circuit Judge Dan O'Hanlon administered the oath before a group of about 25 friends, family and staff members.
Former Secretary of State Ken Hechler made good on his promise to picket the noon inaugural ceremony. Hechler and about 40 pickets gathered nearby to protest Wise's decision to name Logan County Commissioner Art Kirkendoll to a $53,000-a-year job as southern West Virginia constituency coordinator.
Kirkendoll was in a group of people whom Hechler said pushed, shoved and cursed him and others during an August 1999 re-enactment of a 1921 march preceding the Battle of Blair Mountain, a battle involving miners who sought to unionize southern West Virginia and anti-union coal operators.
As the inaugural ceremony began, Hechler left the protesters and sat alone near the back row of folding chairs.
"I made my statement, and I stand by it," Hechler said.
Hechler begins a teaching assignment at West Virginia State College on Tuesday.